Learning By Association: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

This pic made The Bark online smilers!


Since Talley, my 5 year old Enlish Lab is the least able of all three labs to relax while I work with other dogs, she accompanied me to the kennel today for a training session with a board and train dog. One problem is that her stocky little self is quite food driven, and she hates to be missing out! However, she also has learned the behavior, while on leash, to bark and lunge at approaching dogs. Relaxing and working around other dogs is wonderful for her. During our session, Talley was reinforced for calm down/stays, while I worked with the little Eskimo mix nearby. Then Talley got a turn to do the fun stuff! Consequently, she is learning by association that having the other dog nearby really makes good stuff happen. Such a soft and anxious little dog is she, I cannot imagine inflicting any kind of punishment on her.

Recently, I was aghast to hear from a friend, that a neighbor was using a shock collar on their puppy, to correct it for jumping up on people. Dogs learn by association. That puppy will learn to think very poorly, if not hate, approaching people, because they make pain happen. Without proper intervention that puppy will be set up for a lifetime of behavioral problems. So you see, dogs learn about the bad and the ugly by association also. I see this over and over again during behavior consults, when the negative associations have to be undone in order to heal the suffering dog.

Why would anyone want to do that? Talley would be a broken down ruined nervous wreck of a dog, had she ever been subjected to such harsh measures. It breaks my heart to even think of it. This is a dog that runs when she hears the pill bottles opening, for goodness sake. Talley has lots of rules in her little Talley world, which I will no doubt blog about at another time. For now suffice it to say I will continue to make her world safe and secure, by providing her with postive associations to the environments she enters. This really is the foundation of dog-human trust, providing them with positive associations in their world. As you may have noticed, I enjoy writing and have a lot to say, so I hope nobody tires of hearing from me so often! My three labbies provide me with endless opportunities to communicate. Until next time, Leslie and the labbies.